Europe’s first permanent drag racing venue, Santa Pod hosts both the first and last round of the European Drag Racing Championship, along with the British championships.
An action-packed day, the typically dour British weather put paid to a potentially thrilling Drag Strip race during the first part of the morning, but a stunt fighting school was still on the agenda, to which our group of excitable bloggers were more than happy to participate in.
The class room session was delivered by two of the UK’s best-known stuntmen, Paul Heasman and Jason Hunjan. Smart gave us a brief guide and lesson in how to choreograph a fight scene, whilst Hunjan showed the group how to react on film to an explosion (readers of a nervous disposition may want to avert their eyes away from one particular image below). After class was dismissed we had an opportunity to have a quick chat with our two teachers.
Heasman is a 30-plus year veteran of the industry, who found himself donning a Stormtrooper outfit on the set of The Empire Strikes Back, during one of his earliest jobs.
“I was one of those (Stormtroopers) who had to put Harrison Ford into the carbon freeze chamber. None of us could see out of the costumes, so we didn’t know where to position him. On the first task the big chamber came down from above and hit him on the head, and he went mad!”
For anyone else, being on that set would have been the ultimate geek dream, but the life of a stuntman can sometimes prove to a less than glamorous time.
“We were on set doing that little scene for four weeks! I was lighter when I finished because the carbon freezing chamber was all steam and it was boiling hot. We wore black leotards and they gaffer taped us in and we spent hours and hours sweating.”
Growing up in the then actor-centric surrounding of Wimbledon, Heasman felt a connection to that world whilst living amongst it, and at school he opted to do drama instead of the more practical options available. He still has a great respect for the profession and some of his most satisfying jobs have been with those who are masters of their trade.
“I did all the fights in NEDS and had a great working experience with (writer/director) Peter Mullan. The reason I got that film was because I’ve done nine Ken Loach films previously, and I worked with Peter when he was doing My Name is Joe. In that film, we did a fight on the stairs where he beats a girl up, and got so good at doing it, sometimes I thought he’d actually hit her because of the way she was reacting. He’s definitely one of the best actor/directors I’ve ever worked with.”
Hunjan has worked on a number of prestigious productions in his ten year career, including a last three Bond films and Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Batman Begins. His own love for the work stemmed (unsurprisingly) from childhood.
“I used to love all the Bond films and TV programmes like The Professionals and The Sweeney. I was fascinated by the guys tuning the cars over and jumping off buildings. I remember at the age of 12 going to my careers day at school and telling them I wanted to be a stunt man and they were really dismissive – it wasn’t heard of back then.”
His thoughts on CGI as a replacement to physical stunt work:
“CGI has its place, but its better that they’re using less of it and in the right places, and going back to basics. They’re gone back to using physical stunts a lot more. The tipping point was Die Another Day, and after all the CG which was involved in the film, it was clear people wanted that realism – to wince when it looks like someone has been genuinely hurt.”
Having worked and trained with a number of big names in the industry (“the less famous the actor, the more difficult they tend to be”) he has much praise for one A-lister in particular:
“Matt Damon is a very skilled actor obviously, but physically, he could actually be a stunt performer himself. He knows how everything works. On Green Zone, (I’d had a fight with him the previous year on the last Bourne) we had a 60-beat fight to master. There were a lot of moves – smashing into walls, throwing each other around, etc. As we got near to filming the scene, the fight co-ordinator wanted to cut it down, but we’d rehearsed with Matt for three weeks prior to this. One evening, when Matt was catching a flight the next day, he asked if I didn’t mind staying on after wrap as he really wanted to rehearse as he was incredibly keen to do the whole fight. He’s a very nice guy, so I was cool with it.”
“Daniel (Craig) is another great physical actor. The only problem with those guys is you have to sometimes rein them in because they want to do more!”
The afternoon activity proved to be the most exciting of the day as two members from the Fast & Furious 5 stunt team (Kyle Woods and Sli Lewis) offered a demonstration of how to drive around the specially-constructed Gymkhana course, before we were then given the opportunity to get behind the wheel and try it out for ourselves.
Gymkhana events are time and speed obstacles challenges, where the driver must maneuver through a small, twisty track, performing many different driving techniques, such as 180 degree spins, 360 degree spins, parking boxes and figure 8’s. Perhaps the greatest part of the task is that drifting is encouraged where it’s helpful or necessary.
A fantastic adrenaline-fuelled day out was had by all, and a group of grown man where able to finally to act out their previously unfulfilled childhood fantasies.
Fast & Furious 5 is available on DVD and Blu-ray from 5th September.
Read our interview with Kyle Woods.